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Newsbeat: Reef Relief for the Coast

New Orleanians love finding oysters on their plates, but soon they may have a new reason to be happy about finding them just offshore. As part of a slate of coastal restoration projects now being proposed, the state wants to build some 21 miles of new, bioengineered oyster reefs in Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes to help protect fragile wetlands there from further erosion.

The plan, called the Living Shorelines and Shoreline Stabilization Demonstration, would install metal cages planted with oysters along targeted areas of the marshy coast. As these oyster colonies grow, they’ll form sturdy reefs of shell that can act as barriers to the waves and winds that eat away at the deteriorating coastline.

“We’ve run into substantial delays with the [Army Corps of Engineers], but we’re not going to let red tape and studies get in our way,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said during an event announcing the plan. “These coastal projects are aimed at rehabilitating the coast and turning back the clock on coastal erosion.”

Another major part of the state’s proposal would jumpstart a long-delayed project to direct more water from the Mississippi River into Bayou Lafourche, a natural tributary of the great river that has received only a trickle of its fresh water and land-sustaining sediment since being dammed early in the 20th century. The influx should help restore marsh and wetlands in the Lafourche and Terrebonne areas and improve the stability of the fresh water these communities draw from the bayou.

Funding would come from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP), a federal initiative which uses government revenue from offshore energy production to help offset the damage caused by that activity to coastal habitat and communities. Specifically, the $26.5 million oyster reef program and $20 million Bayou Lafourche program would be drawn from other CIAP projects that were completed under-budget or have been delayed. The state has a total of $60 million in coastal restoration projects planned from this leftover CIAP money.

“After four hurricanes in three years and the BP oil spill, it is imperative that we do everything we can to restore our coast and get to work on hurricane protection projects that will help lessen the impact of future storms,” Jindal said.

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